Every year it seems the Christmas season arrives earlier than the year before. Marketing and retail displays seem to be up sooner each year and I swear Christmas carols have been playing in department stores since about July. This retail marketing strategy, coupled with our constant connection to our smart phones means our ability to exercise patience is often tested. We are encouraged to move on to the next season or festival. We want information now. What we may have discovered on social media an hour ago has already been superseded if we dare look away.
This phenomenon of wanting information as soon as possible is also present in business. If you’ve commissioned a research or evaluation project, and you’re paying good money for information that will help you make important decisions, the sooner you can have the results the better. This is particularly relevant when reporting structures for government programs are integrated into election cycles, influencing the timelines of longer term evaluation projects.
There are two situations in which being impatient for research or evaluation results can be problematic.
Evaluating too soon
It is not unusual for programs to be required to report evaluation findings at too early a stage in their development, and well before some of the anticipated effects can be expected to emerge. In two of my long-term evaluation projects––being conducted in Victoria and Queensland––I have encouraged my clients to allow a number of months beyond the end of the initiative to elapse before I conduct the final phase of the evaluation. The legacy of the initiative is more likely to become evident at this point than if the evaluation took place at the conclusion of activity, at which time a flurry of activity may be mistaken for lasting impacts.
Reporting too soon
It is not uncommon during the research phase of a project for a client to ask when they can have topline results. I find it pleasing to know that clients wish to act on findings as soon as possible. However, there are two concerns associated with reporting too soon:
1. Evidence can shift
Despite evidence of emerging trends in findings, sometimes it takes a little more evidence to amass before conclusions can be confidently made. To report too early may be misleading if more evidence then emerges that suggests a subtly different outcome.
2. Analysis requires contemplation
Although research may have been completed and raw findings are in, it may be premature to provide raw topline results before time has been taken to process, analyse and draw meaningful conclusions from the data. This is particularly relevant for evaluation projects that require more complex interpretation of research findings to input into a narrative around the extent to which a program has met its intended objectives.
Skilled consultants have no aversion to working towards tight deadlines. But we are also commissioned for our skill and experience in making sense of information, often of a complex nature. This may take time. Depending on your project brief, it may mean waiting until next Christmas for your results. But never fear, by next year, Christmas may arrive by about March!